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Celebrate the American way with #039;las favoritas#039;

On May 5, 1862, a band of poor Mexicans defeated the French invaders in the small town of Puebla and there was cause for celebration and jubilation.

The French had come into Veracruz and the Mexican fought them bravely but were overpowered, said Pam Merkel, Spanish teacher at Charles Henderson High School.

"The French army moved on to the town of Puebla where the poorly armed Mexicans joined forces, fought strongly and defeated the well-outfitted French," Merkel said. "That is what is commemorated on Cinco De Mayo - the defeat of the French at Puebla."

Merkel said the Mexicans won the battle but not the war.

"An emperor was sent in the rule for a while but winning the Battle of Puebla was a big thing for the poor little Mexicans, so that victory continues to be celebrated today."

Merkel said Cinco De Mayo is not the country traditional Independence Day, it remains a festive holiday steeped in pride and tradition.

The holiday is a celebration of freedom and liberty and is celebrated in the United States in states where there is a large Mexican population, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Because of the increasing Mexican population in many areas of the United States, the celebration of Cinco De Mayo is moving east, Merkel said.

"In Mexico, Cinco De Mayo is a national holiday celebration," she said. "There are big parades and fiestas. The parades are patriotic celebrations of the culture and are very colorful with the many different costumes. There is much singing and dancing. Each region has its own dances that are typical of their area. No matter where the celebrations, the are well organized."

The people of Mexico love fireworks and it would be hard to imagine a Cinco De Mayo celebration without fireworks.

And, what would any celebration be without food and Cinco De Mayo is one long fiesta.

"What people don't realize is that, in Mexico, fruit juices accompany the hot and spicy meals that are served," Merkel said. Cinco De Mayo is a festive day of fun, family and food, but most of all, it's a patriot commemoration of the Battle of Puebla, when the poorly armed Mexican defeated the French invaders."

For a different dish on Cinco De Mayo try the following Mexican dishes with a little American flair.

Salsa Salad

1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups Old El Paso salsa

1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 teaspoon chili powder

1 bag (12 ounces) American-blend salad mix

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese

3/4 cup coarsely broken nacho cheese tortilla chips

Stir together kidney beans, black beans, salsa, sour cream and chili powder in large bowl. Layer salad mix; bean mixture, tomatoes, cheese and tortilla chips in ungreased 4-quart serving bowl or 9x13x2-inch baking dish.

Taco Fiesta Bake

1 jar (24-ounces) Old El Paso salsa

1 package Old El Paso taco shells

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (4 ounces)

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 can (11 ounces) white corn, drained

1 can (4.5 ounces) Old El Paso chopped green chiles

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon steak sauce

1/2 to 1 cup sour cream

Chopped fresh tomatoes

Sliced ripe olives

Chopped jalapeno chiles

Guacamole

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3-quart casserole with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup salsa in casserole. Break each taco shell into 4 to 6 pieces. Arrange half the broken shells over salsa. Spread 1 cup of remaining salsa over shells. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup each Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese. Top with onion, corn and green chiles.

Stir together beans, cumin and steak sauce; spoon evenly over mixture in casserole. Top with remaining broken shells. Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese and salsa. Cover. Bake 20 minutes. Uncover, bake about 10 minutes longer or until bubbly and cheese is melted. Top with 1/2 cup sour cream, garnish with remaining ingredients. If desired, serve with remaining 1/2 cup sour cream.

Rio Bravo Beans

2 cans (15 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (16 ounces) Old El Paso refried beans

1 can (10 ounces) Old El Paso enchilada sauce

1 can (4.5 ounces) Old El Paso chopped green chiles

3/4 cup onions, finely chopped

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 large cloves, garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Stir together all ingredients except cheese in 4-quart saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese.

Chocolate Caramel Pecan Squares

1 package (13 1/4 ounces) devil's food cake mix

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted

2 large eggs, divided

1/2 cup plus one tablespoon water

2 packages (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 container (18 ounces) caramel apple dip

1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped

1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup light brown sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan. In large mixer bowl, beat cake mix and butter on low until well blended and crumbly. Press half the mixture evenly onto bottom of pan. Bake 10 minutes or until firm; set aside, maintaining oven temperature. Add 1 egg and water to remaining cake mix; beat on low until mixed, then beat on high 1 to 2 minutes to blend any lumps. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and vanilla until fluffy. Add the remaining egg, scrape down the sides of the bowl; beat well. Warm the caramel dip according to package directions and add to cream cheese mixture; beat on high to blend. Pour mixture evenly over baked crust. Place spoonsful of remaining chocolate randomly on top of caramel layer and gently spread until smooth and even. Combine the pecans, chocolate chips and brown sugar and sprinkle on top. Bake 30 minutes or until set. Cool completely before cutting.

Mexican Chopped Salad with Sweet Spicy Dressing

1/4 cu plus 1 tablespoon caramel apple dip

2 tablespoon water

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup canola oil

Salad:

1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

1 large head Romaine lettuce, chopped crosswise into 3/4-inch strips

2 Washington Fuji apples, cored and chopped

1 1/2 cups coarsely crumbled yellow corn tortilla chips

1 avocado, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

Prepare Dressing: In a small pot, warm the caramel and water to dissolve the caramel. Whisk in the vinegar, cumin, hot sauce and salt to blend. Transfer to jar or other covered container, add the oil and shake well to blend. Refrigerate while preparing salad ingredients. To toast pecans, spread pecan halves on an ungreased baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until they are fragrant and glisten. Stir the nuts occasionally so the y toast evenly.

Prepare salad: Combine lettuce, apples, tortilla chips, pecans, avocado and red onion in serving bowl and toss gently. Just before serving, pour dressing over mixture and gently fold to coat salad.

Confetti Qesadillas with Colby and Monterey Jack

12 soft corn tortillas

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim Colby cheese

1/2 cup fresh corn kernels or black beans

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1 red bell pepper, finely minced

1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced

Preheat large skillet over low heat. Line up six tortillas. Divide cheese, corn, cilantro and peppers between the tortillas, then cover each with a second tortilla. Place a tortilla on the dry skillet or grill and warm until cheese is melted and tortilla is slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook other side until golden, about 1 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve. Repeat with remaining quesadillas. If desired, serve wedge with a dollop of Cilantro Yogurt "Sour Cream."

Cilantro Yogurt Sour Cream

Staining yogurt gives you a no-fat version of sour cream with a light taste that blends nicely with cilantro.

2 cups plain nonfat yogurt

1/4 cup finely minced cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

Line a large strainer with a coffee filter or paper towel and place over mixing bowl. Pour in yogurt and refrigerate until some of the liquid had drained away and the yogurt is the consistency of sour cream, about one hour. Transfer to small mixing bowl; stir in cilantro and salt.

Apple, Cinnamon and Brie Quesadillas

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons butter, divided

2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch think slices

3 tablespoons dark rum or apple juice

6 (8-inch) flour tortillas

8 ounces Brie cheese, sliced

4 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts

Mix sugars and cinnamon and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add sliced apples and saut\u00E9 1 minute. Add half of the sugar mixture and the rum or apple juice to the apples. Cook until apples are tender but not mushy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. For each quesadilla, spoon 1/6 of the apple mixture on the half of the tortilla. Top with 1/6 of the cheese. Fold each quesadilla; spoon 1/6 of the apple mixture on half of the tortilla. Tope with 1/6 of cheese. Fold remaining tortilla over top to make a half moon shape. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Heat remaining butter in a large skillet of griddle over medium heat. Cook quesadillas 3 at a time until golden brown on each side, about 4 minutes. To serve, cut each quesadilla into thirds. Sprinkle with some of the remaining sugar mixture and some of the walnuts.

Pecan and Pepper Chicken Burritos

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1 pound thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 tablespoon olive oil, divided

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped

2 bell peppers (orange, red or green) seeded and sliced

1 large red onion, sliced in thin wedges

Black pepper

8 flour tortillas (8-inch, soft taco size)

Salsa

Stir together chili powder, cumin, oregano and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle spice mixture evenly over all sides of chicken; place chicken in a plastic. Shake lightly and rub the plastic against the chicken to rub in spices. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the chicken pieces in batches, turning once, until chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to cool slightly. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in same skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and pecans; cook until garlic is softened and pecans are fragrant - about 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Add peppers and onion to skillet and increase heat to medium-high.

Cook stirring occasionally until tender crisp. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper; stir into pecan and garlic mixture.

Slice the chicken crosswise into think strips and add to vegetables. To serve, war the tortillas. Divide chicken, pecan and vegetable mixture among tortillas, placing the mixture in the center. Fold up bottom of tortillas to partially cover filling, then fold in sides to create a pocket. Serve with salsa.